March 9, 2023 - It’s been 20 years since the inaugural XTERRA Rotorua Festival first took to the shores of Lake Tikitapu in 2003, and thereafter tens of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts have navigated their way through New Zealand’s enchanting Whakarewarewa Forest in the name of off-road adventure.
This Saturday, March 11, 2023, the tradition continues as more than 1,000 participants, including a strong elite field led by the defending champs and local legends, Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford, take to the trails.
For Osborne, who was born and raised in the woods of Rotorua, this weekend is a chance to write his name in the record books as the first elite to win five straight races.
“Five in a row here would be awesome, and doing it in front of a home crowd would be magic, but I’ll have to get past a pretty rapid Jack Moody,” said Osborne. “He’s been going really well in the halves the last few months so it’ll be good to go at each other on the more familiar bike for me. He’s been turning in some impressive run splits and seems to be figuring out his swimming to be a really well rounded guy.”
Moody, who finished third behind Osborne and Kyle Smith at this race in 2021, said he’s looking forward to his return to the dirt.
“Really looking forward to throwing a leg over the mountain bike again this weekend,” said Moody, the Auckland-based road triathlon star who had a big win at Challenge Wanaka last month ahead of Mike Phillips and Sebastien Kienle.
“It’s been an incredibly busy summer for me racing several half distance races around NZ so it will be nice to change it up come Saturday. I can’t wait to see how I stack up with the off-road boys and some of the short course lads that have thrown their hat in the ring for this weekend. Course looks mint with plenty of passing opportunities which should make for some balls to the wall racing.”
Other formidable contenders include 2018 XTERRA Pan Am Tour Champ Kieran McPherson, and Oliver Larcombe, who both finished in the top 5 in 2021, plus super swimmer David Martin, running great John Mering, and XTERRA specialist Taylor Charlton from Australia.
“Training has been going well and it is always a great weekend of racing at Rotorua,” said McPherson, who placed 2nd to Osborne last month at XTERRA Wellington. “Frank Clarke and the organizing team do a fantastic job, the Blue Lake is one of the best fresh water swims on the circuit, and the trails are world class .”
XWR – Name, NAT
9 - Sam Osborne, NZL
19 - Kieran McPherson, NZL
118 - Taylor Charlton, AUS
NR - Oliver Larcombe, NZL
NR - David Martin, NZL
NR - John Mering, NZL
NR - Jack Moody, NZL
The women’s elite race is also steeped in talent, with two-time XTERRA Wellington Champion Maeve Kennedy riding a wave of success after her win on the Kapiti coast two weeks ago.
“Looks like a very strong lineup of women. Samantha and Lizzy will be very hard to beat after Wellington, and Hannah is one of the best short course road triathletes in NZ,” said Kennedy. “This is just my second time racing here, so some of the girls have more experience and I imagine that will go in their favor on the ride, but I’m looking forward to a competitive race.”
2016 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Champion, Lizzie Orchard, has won XTERRA Rotorua before and is happy to have the event back on the calendar after missing two of the last three years due to covid-forced cancellations.
“Looking forward to racing the trails and enjoying the celebration at XTERRA Rotorua after some interrupted years, and experiencing the event in a more summer time frame here in March rather than April will be great,” she said.
For Kingsford, who has spent her fair share of time training on the trails in Rotorua, the home course race is always special.
“Excited to be back racing what is truly, hands down, the best run XTERRA event worldwide, with one of the best courses you could ask for,” said Kingsford. “I hope one day this race hosts the XTERRA World Championship, because I think it would blow the internationals minds to see what Rotorua has to offer!”
After racing through a cold in Wellington, Kingsford is happy to have another shot at some of the Asia-Pacific regions fastest elite women.
“It's another strong field for a southern Hemisphere race with Meave and Lizzie who are well experienced athletes and eager to take the tape,” she said. “We also can't discount Hannah Howell, who's a High Performance Triathlon NZ member. She is a strong swimmer and raced here two years ago so knows what to expect in an XTERRA race now.”
Howell was fifth two years ago, and said she looks forward to racing a triathlon on a mountain bike again.
“I choose to race XTERRA Rotorua as I like to do a bit of everything,” said Howell. “I want to keep myself open to lots of opportunities whether that be short course Olympic racing, 70.3’s, or XTERRA. My mountain bike skills are not as strong as the other girls, but I am looking forward to having a bit of fun and seeing how I go ahead of the Oceania sprint triathlon champs next weekend and then New Plymouth world cup the week after.”
Jenny Fletcher (USA/CAN), fresh off Ironman New Zealand, said she’s been looking forward to experiencing Rotorua for some time now.
“I’m still a newbie to the XTERRA World but decided I couldn’t miss riding the best trails in New Zealand,” she said. “My husband is from here so he promised me I would have fun, so here I am, borrowing a mountain bike and seeing what is left in the tank after the Ironman last weekend.”
XWR – Name, NAT
6 - Samantha Kingsford, NZL
21 – Lizzie Orchard, NZL
23 - Maeve Kennedy, AUS
62 - Jenny Fletcher, USA
NR - Hannah Howell, NZL
XTERRA Rotorua is the second of six stops on the 2023 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour. For elites, there are five prize paying races in the region, highlighted by the $25,000USD on offer at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship in Taiwan, which will host the first of seven stops on the all-new XTERRA World Cup where elites will go head to head for their share of $340,000 in prize money.
Live results from race day will be available here, and images and coverage can be found on instagram.
XTERRA ROTORUA ALL-TIME ELITE WINNERS
Year - Men/Women
2003 - Sam Mallard/Evelyn Willamson
2004 - Hamish Carter/Sonia Foote
2005 - Hamish Carter/Sonia Foote
2006 - Hamish Carter/Gina Ferguson
2007 - Tim Wilding/Gina Ferguson
2008 - Terenzo Bozzone/Sonia Foote
2009 - Richard Ussher/Nicola Leary
2010 - Scott Thorne/Nicola Leary
2011 - Richard Ussher/Karen Hanlen
2012 - Ben Allen/Jacqui Slack
2013 - Ben Allen/Renata Bucher
2014 - Conrad Stoltz/Barbara Riveros
2015 - Braden Currie/Suzie Snyder
2016 - Braden Currie/Lizzie Orchard
2017 - Sam Osborne/Jacqui Allen
2018 - Sam Osborne/Jacqui Allen
2019 - Sam Osborne/Jacqui Allen
2021 - Sam Osborne/Samantha Kingsford
For news, event updates, stories and more.